Lilian Westcott Among the Lillies
pastel on paper
21 3/4 in. x 27 3/4 in. (55.25 cm x 70.49 cm)
Gift of Mrs. Charles LaPierre,
Philip Leslie Hale
Philip Leslie Hale was a leader of the Boston school of Impressionism. The son of a prominent Unitarian minister and man of letters, Hale was compelled by his father to pass the Harvard entrance examinations before being permitted to study art. Initially enrolling in the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Hale later attended the Art Students League of New York as well as the Académie Julian and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, both in Paris. Settled in Boston by 1891, the artist continued to travel to Europe, particularly in France, where he spent a number of summers in Giverny with Claude Monet's son-in-law.
From 1893 until his death Hale served as instructor of antique and life drawing at the Museum School in Boston. He also taught courses at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and lectured in art history at Boston University. Hale exhibited regularly and widely and was a member of many artists' societies, including the National Academy of Design, to which he was elected an associate academician in 1917. The numerous prizes and awards he won for his art include the National Academy's Proctor Prize, the Lea Prize of the Pennsylvania Academy, and medals and awards at several international expositions. Hale remained active through the 1920s, dying in Boston in 1931.
Hale's high-keyed palette and sketchy style are amply realized in the Currier's pastel, Lillian Westcott among the Lilies. Rendered in long, broken strokes interspersed with softer passages, the image depicts a young woman seen against a dense screen of white lilies. The bust-length format suggests that this is a portrait, yet the ostensible subject seems almost subsumed by the burgeoning floral backdrop. There is little sense of spatial depth or differentiation in stroke, resulting in a tapestry-like composition that effectively meshes lilies and woman, uniting them in a poetic statement typical of Boston Impressionism.
If Hale's sentiment was in keeping with Boston Impressionism, the flatness of his image and his tendency to break down form are characteristics seen more often in French Neo Impressionism. In contrast to his contemporaries Edmund Tarbell (q.v.) and Frank Benson (q.v.), Hale was less inclined to give his subjects the illusionistic solidity that American viewers preferred. As a result, his critics could be unfriendly on occasion. Although he was successful as an artist, he never enjoyed the acclaim accorded Tarbell and Benson. Today, however, Hale's work stands out for its originality and distinctive qualities.
The portraitlike quality of the Currier pastel combined with Hale's emphasis on lilies have led observers to conclude that the pastel is a portrait of the artist's wife, Lillian Westcott Hale (1881-1963), herself a highly regarded painter and pastelist of the Boston school. The two artists met in 1900 and were married a year later; their first and only child, Nancy, was born in 1908. In 1977 Nancy Hale examined Lillian Westcott among the Lilies and concluded that the pastel is not an image of her mother, but most likely depicts studio model Mary Sullivan of Boston. The original title of the work, its date of creation, and subsequent exhibition history are all presently unknown.
Lillian Westcott among the Lilies was presented to the Currier Museum of Art in 1975 by Mrs. Charles La Pierre.
R. H. Ives Gammell. The Boston Painters 1900-1930. Edited by Elizabeth Ives Hunter. Orleans, MA: Parnassus Imprints, 1986.
Trevor J. Fairbrother. The Bostonians: Painters of an Elegant Age, 1870-1930. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1986.
1982 Colby-Sawyer College, New London, NH, "American Flowers." Jan. 28 - Feb. 15.